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THE CORNER CLUB: AS OLD-SCHOOL AS IT GETS

Several years ago I was reading an out-of-town weekly free newspaper and there was a big piece on cold beer. The writers had gone to dozens of local bars and rated them on selection, price and the actual temperature of the beer as served.

This seems amusing nowadays, as the emphasis on beer has shifted even in mainstream circles from price and temperature to selection and quality. But in the simpler times of, oh, 10 years ago, cold beer generally was considered the same thing as good beer. How quaint, you're probably thinking, as you crack open a $25 bottle of barrel-aged stout and pour it into your precision-crafted teku glass.

In researching neighborhood bars in Tampa, I came across the Corner Club. Reviews, comments and blurbs online relayed the gist of it: There's karaoke, free pretzels, a bartender named Bruce whom everyone seems to like and bold claims of the "coldest beer in town."

After a trip out there, the Corner Club seems exactly as described. It's as old-school as it gets - a small, weathered brick building on the corner of a residential street, with blacked-out windows, a few beer neons, and warped wood panels on the door. Inside, it's smoky, dark, and pretty quiet, but that probably had something to do with the fact that I stopped in on a late afternoon in the middle of the week.

Most of the Corner Club is situated around a long, horseshoe bar. At one corner is the karaoke area - very popular on Friday and Saturday nights - and there's a game room in the back, with a pool table, dart board, claw machine, scratch-off machine, and Foosball table. Near the front door, there's a portrait of "Waylon 'n Willie," if that helps paint a picture for you.

I ordered a Founders All Day IPA - a nice find considering that this is a bar with only a dozen or so beers total, and none on draft. There were also options from Cigar City: Jai Alai IPA, Maduro brown, and Florida Cracker wit. The beer was cold, which was not surprising given that it came straight from an ice bath. The coldest in town? I couldn't tell you, but it was plenty cold, rest assured. I'm guessing somewhere in the mid-30s. And it did, in fact, come with free pretzels.

I hung around a while and watched CHiPs on TV with a guy on the other end of the bar and bartender Bruce Weiss. He introduced himself with a handshake, something you don't see often. Between the overall atmosphere and the show on TV (if you're wondering, it was the one where Barizca has to stop a runaway truck with his cruiser), it felt as if I'd been transported back in time a few decades, with very few continuity errors (the modern jukebox was a dead giveaway).

In addition to providing some of the most friendly service I've encountered in some time, Bruce proved a good source of information about the bar. The Corner Club used to have a pretty active Foosball tournament league until the organizer went MIA. Bruce is currently trying to get the tournaments started up again every other Wednesday, if there's enough interest.

He also told me that the owner of the Corner Club has had the place for 42 years, and he's determined to keep it simple. There are no frivolous upgrades here. The bar takes cash only, via a suitably ancient register, and the drink selection is cold beer, a few wines and nothing else. If you're hungry, you've got free pretzels and an option to upgrade to boiled peanuts. Some would call it a dive, but that's not completely accurate - it's simply a bar that has no intentions of modernizing, save for occasional amenities such as that new jukebox and a few solid craft beers in the lineup.

Above the bar is an old stained glass Michelob lamp. It's the kind that they used to give out to bars back when that seemed like a reasonably profitable thing to do. I'm pretty sure they don't make nice Michelob lamps like that any more, and they certainly don't make no-frills, real-deal neighborhood bars like the Corner Club any more. Fortunately, this one is still around. If you're an old fashioned, coldest-beer-in-town type, then the Corner Club is your place. - jg@saintbeat.com

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The Corner Club

1502 E Sligh Ave., Tampa. (813) 231-5010, facebook.com/pages/The-Corner-Club.

The vibe: An old-school hole in the wall with cheap, cold beer and first-name service.

Booze: Beer, $2.50-$4; wine, $3.75.

Specialty: The Corner Club is considered by some to have the "coldest beer in town." Take your pick - PBRs are $2.50 and craft cans like Cigar City Florida Cracker and Founders All Day IPA are only $4, and they're all kept on ice. I'm not sure if they're the coldest in town, but if they were much colder they'd have to be frozen. There are a few house wine varieties available as well, if the mood strikes, featuring the same budget-friendly pricing as the beer.

Hours: Open 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.

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